For sure you know one of the biggest attraction for foreign and local tourists in the whole North Caucasus : mount Elbrus ! Yes, the twin peaks is located in Kabardino – Balkaria but there’s so much more than Europe’s highest mountain to see over there !
Here you will meet hospitable (and some very curious!) locals, learn a bit of dodgy Soviet history, and hike to serious jawdropping mountain views !
I have spent about 3 weeks roaming around (yeah I’m a slow traveler), and here’s a list of places to visit in Kabardino – Balkaria.
Last updated : 07/03/2023
Good to know
There are three main ethnic groups in Kabardino – Balkaria :
Locals are used to see tourists coming to climb mount Elbrus, including foreigners, but don’t expect much English there if your backpacking on your own. However, locals are super friendly, and even with a few broken words of Russian and Google Translate you will be fine.
Special mention about Balkar : they are very curious, don’t be suprised to get some quite personal questions, especially if you’re a solo female traveler : Why are you alone ?? Why aren’t you married yet ??
Border zone permit
I applied for a border zone permit in Kabardino – Balkaria, like I applied for a bunch of permits in the neighboring republics as I didn’t really know where it would come in handy.
My application got denied, because I forgot to mention I did not intend to climb the Elbrus.
The peak is within the border zone and has special regulations. You can’t just apply for a permit and set off to the top of Europe’s highest mountain just like that. It has to be organised, with a guide.
If you don’t have a permit you will only be able to go to Nalkchik, most of the republic’s lowlands, and El’brus, the village not the peak.
Okay I’m exagerating a bit but you will not be able to go hiking around the Elbrus for example (not talking about the peak itself that definitely requires one). The mountains are the true gem of the republic in case you didn’t get it until now.
I’m not saying it’d pointless to visit Kabardino – Balkaria without a permit (I did) but you will definitely be limited in the mountains, depending on where you’re heading to.
On the map above, at the top of the page you will find all the locations of the following places. I strongly recommend you to use Yandex map (Russian google) instead of Google maps or anything else you’re using. Maps.me works pretty good too.
The names can be spelled in a different way from cyrilic to latin scripts, that’s why you will find the names in their original forms to make it easier to search on whatever map you use.
I have also mentionned if a border zone permit is necessary or not. There’s no general map (at least that I’m aware of) to show exactly where the border zone and the military posts are, but I’ve tried my best to pin them in red on the map.
(Нальчик) – Nalchik, the capital. You will most probably arrive there at first, by marshrutka or by train from neighoring republics. First thing that you might spot on your way in is the MDV (police) office and a quite big portrait of Putin …
There are a few different markets in town, restaurants, cafés, parks, a “1000 stairs” path to nowhere, a couple of suspended bridge accross the Nalchik river, a national museum that was closed for repairs when I was there and obviously quite a few hotels (+ one far away and a bit crappy hostel that I don’t recommend) options to sleep in.
You could totally spend a couple of days (or more) exploring the city or even make it your base to do day trips and explore the surroundings.
The Cherek valley
(Черек) – The road down to the valley runs along the river Cherek. It’ i’s very accessible from Nalchik but the road halfway through turns into a bumpy unfinished dirt road.
You can keep going down along the Cherek river, plenty of waterfalls and more hikes to do but make sure you have a border zone permit as you are litteraly 20 kms away from the Georgian border. The military post is located a few kilometers after Verkhnaya Balkaria.
The Chegem valley
(Чегем) – The Chegem Valley is considered by Balkars as the historical region of their people. There is one of the best preserved necropolise in the Caucasus.
The border zone post is located a couple of kilometers after the village of Bulungu (Булунгу).
The Baksan valley
(Баксан) – The most traveled road by tourists in Kabardino – Balkaria leading to mount Elbrus. There are a lot of accomodations in the villages close to the peak : in Terskol, Baydayevo, Neytrino etc
Make sure to book in advance during high season.
As I mentionned before, I did not climb the Elbrus. I wish I was fit enough for such adventure but I am not. I don’t have any guide or company to recommend you to climb it.
Only one tip : make sure you book with a trusted agency with good reviews. There are plenty of foreigners every year that climb it, and they obviously all go through an agency. I’ve met a couple of them, their guide was apparently super professional and speaking great english.
The Adyr – Suu gorge
(Адыр-Суу) – Ever seen a cable car for cars? Overthere you will ! Yes, you read right. There has been accidents in the past but no worries people walk up the stairscase on the side.
There’s a border zone post after the “lift” so without a border zone permit you will not go any further.
This gorge is also called the “Svan pass”, Svan people used to travel from Svaneti in Georgia to Balkaria back in the days. Also it’s a very popular area for local mountain hikers.
You will find the Ullu-Tau (Уллу-Тау) alpine camp, named after the high peak nearby. This base for hikers opened in 1936 is running from early summer until the end of september : beds, showers, canteen and equipment rental.
There are dozens of trails in the area from quite easy to difficult. You can see ibex, waterfalls, pristine lakes and more !
The Bezengi valley
(Безенги) -You need a permit for that one, there is a military post right after the village of the same name.
The Bezengi wall is not an actual wall but it’s home to 5 of the 7 Caucasus peaks above 5000 meters. This area is popular among experienced hikers. If you want to know more about it, check out this page of Russia.travel, they have quite precise informations about it.
The Bezengi mountaineering base offers accomodation, gear rental and more.
Dzhily – Suu
(Джилы-Су) – Also spelled Djili – Suu meaning hot waters in Balkar, is full of waterfalls and hot springs but mostly, the road from Kislvodsk is considered by many Russian tourists to be one of the most scenic in the North Caucasus as it’s on the north side of Mount Elbrus. A must go and see place in the area.
It has jaw dropping views on the Elbrus ! Not easy to get to but definitely worth the drive !
With all that, you can now start planning your next adventure to Kabardino – Balkaria.
This republic of Russia is so underrated in my opinion. Foreigners barely heard its name, even the ones climbing the Elbrus …
If you’re a mountain enthousiast I highly recommend you to come to this corner of the North Caucasus, people are great, mountains are stunning, you will have a blast for sure !
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, suggestions, if you’ve been there already or if you’re planning to go after reading this post !